If you have ever had the pleasure of watching an animal, such as a cow, dog or cat give birth – then you have probably also witnessed the not-so-pleasurable act of these animals eating their afterbirth. In nature, the birthing mother almost always ingests some or all of the afterbirth. With humans, of course, the afterbirth and placenta are collected and sampled and shipped off, and most mothers don’t even get to see this part of the childbirth.
Still, placenta encapsulation – where the placenta is shipped to specialized facilities that turn the placenta into a capsule form – is gaining in popularity. But is it safe?
Placentophagy (the act of consuming the human placenta) is extremely uncommon for humans. In a study or 179 cultures, researchers found only one that mentioned this practice (and even that one may have been an outlier where the practice was not actually common). Consuming the placenta has been used in Chinese medicine since the early 1500’s – though it is not typically the new mother it is used for.
Claims made by proponents of placenta encapsulation include: increased energy, balanced hormones, uterine repair, better milk production, decreased incidence of postpartum depression, and quickly rebounding levels of iron in the blood. Proponents of placenta encapsulation claim that the placenta is filled with an amazing amount of minerals, vitamins and nutrients that may help to boost the immune systems after birth. These claims, however, are unproven.
Because of the high levels of progesterone in the placenta, it is actually counterintuitive that it would increase milk production. Progesterone is needed to maintain a pregnancy, and it’s not until the placenta is delivered and the hormones shift that milk production begins. When a woman has retained placental fragments in her uterus, her milk coming in is delayed. Anecdotally, lactation consultants are seeing a trend of low milk supply in moms who have consumed their placenta after the birth.
Regarding use of placentophagy for preventing or treating postpartum mood disorders, researchers have concluded that “current evidence does not suggest that placentophagy prevents or treats PPD by replenishing therapeutic doses of estrogen nor that it facilitates a return to a normal postpartum estrogen cycle. While it is clear that estrogen is significantly depleted at childbirth, not all women experience postnatal mood symptoms, thus the exact role of estrogen in PPD is not fully understood.”
In addition, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued a warning about placenta encapsulation after a baby became ill with late-onset Group B Strep infection, and the placenta is thought to be the ultimate source of infection.
Unless you are utilizing a natural birth center, doula or midwife who associates with an organization that safely encapsulates placentas, you may not even be aware that it is a possibility. If you are interested, you need to do your homework prior to delivery. Weigh the purported pros and cons before you make a decision to spend the time and money to encapsulate your placenta. Be sure to use a reputable service with sterile handling practices. Include placenta encapsulation in your birthing plan so the hospital or birthing center where you give birth knows to properly store and label your afterbirth. Your safety – and your baby’s – are of paramount importance.
Written By Team Health & Parenting
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.